BLACK SKI SLOPE DOPE
Black Ski has a 24-hour hotline at 526-7100. Since the organization relies heavily on volunteers, its office hours are 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Headquarters is at 3523 12th Street NE.
It was dark and stormy, and unusually cold for Washington, when we got on the bus -- but we were heading for Vermont, a place whose weather teaches you new respect for the word "cold." Up there, January temperatures can hover around 0 for a while and then plunge to 20 or more below. Only the veterans knew that then, of course -- all we novices knew was that we were going with Black Ski to a resort called Smuggler's Notch for a learn-to-ski week.
On the way we stopped in Baltimore to pick up other members, bringing our total to 25, and in Vermont two members of Black Ski of Boston joined us.
This week-long trip has been an annual happening of the Black Ski club for several years now. Actually, "learn-to-ski" is something of a misnomer: The club contingent usually includes advanced skiers as well as those putting on skis for the first time.
When I first heard about Black Ski some time ago, I wondered how many black skiers there could be in Washington. But Lenny Milner, Black Ski's director of operations and one of its founders, estimates that Washington has about 400 blacks who ski -- at different levels, of course. Black Ski, formed in 1972 by Milner and several friends on their way home from a skiing outing, now has about 1,700 members in the Washington area, and another 80 or so in Baltimore and elsewhere.
Black Ski's name was chosen, obviously, to let blacks know that their membership and participation were welcomed, but Milner says that there was never any attempt to keep the club exclusively black -- it's had about 50 white members over the years.
Milner and other experienced black skiers say they've been objects more of curiosity than of discrimination since they began to ski more than 10 years ago. Blacks on the slopes are still rarities, but instead of resenting the attention they attract, Black Ski members have decided to enjoy it. The club sells its members a smartly designed official suit and encourages everyone to wear it on the first day of skiing; and on the last day the members -- beginners as well as "oldtimers" -- hold a ski-off, going en masse to the top of a mountain of reasonable height and skiing down it in single file. Almost at the end of the trail, they set up a human slalom and rotate positions down to the bottom. It's aimed less at putting on a show for onlookers than at giving members a sense of togetherness and older hands an opportunity to help beginners -- like me -- practice what they've just spent a week trying to learn.
With my husband, I set off from D.C. one Saturday night at 11 o'clock for what turned out to be a 14-hour bus trip. Surprisingly, it didn't get tedious until the last hour or so, because of the party atmosphere on the bus.
There were all knids of people on the trip, from one fearless 11-year-old to a retiree who regularly journeys from New Jersey to join in the D.C. Black Ski jaunts.
The one thing my husband and I had reservations about was our reservations -- we weren't looking forward to sharing a chalet with five other people for a week. The last time I lived in a communal setting was almost 10 years ago. But our concerns evaporated when we met our chaletmates: a dental technician, an HEW educational specialist, a pharmaceutical sales representative, a young sportswriter and a nurse whose field is occupational safety and health. An eclectic group, certainly, but we don't think we could have picked a nicer, more compatible group of people ourselves.
The week had been organized to be flexible.Our schedule had what we saw as two built-in formalities: 9:30 sking lessons and a group dinner, which was prepared by each chalet in a cooperative manner.
For dinner, Black Ski provided the food and we provided the labor -- cooking, setting the table, cleaning up and other chores that, by the way were equitably divided between women and men. Dinner became a routine we all looked forward to -- a chance to share our day's experiences and to get to know each other better.
Each group seemed to take on its own character, and I was a little surprised to see that ours seemed a bit more formal than the other three chalets.
I'd skied only once before, more than a year ago, so I was really starting all over again -- as I soon discovered. On the first day, I boldly asked to be assigned to an intermediate group, not realizing there'd be no review of basics. After a short, unaided ski-off and several decisive spills, I asked my instructor to demote me. When he resisted, saying I was getting the hang of it, I listened to my bruised body, swallowed by pride and demoted myself. My new instructor, Pat Weisel, became my guide for the rest of the week. For a day, I went over basics to get the feel of trying to balance on those two thin boards and to get an essentially untrained body over a snowy and mountainous terrain. Every time Pat exhorted us to "find our rhythm, "I kept wondering what happened to all the rhythm legend has bestowed on black people.
Well, I had to do the best with what I had, so I worked hard to relax . Being able to relax became the first step for me each day. Only after telling myself to relax did I concentrate on keeping my weight on the down-hill ski, bending toward the ski tips with my knees, keeping my weight distributed properly and staying in control so I wouldn't go careening down the side of the mountain.
These are all easier said than done, but we quickly advanced as our instructors kept urging us on beyond what we thought we could do. By the end of the week, we had all exceeded our original expectations -- and I even passed the level from which I'd demoted myself.
And I met a lot of interesting people:
First-timer Modestine Love has been a member of Black Ski for a year: she spent that year on other club activities to get to know some of the people before committing herself to a week in a confined setting with them. Modestine, a secretary for the Army, was one of several on this trip above the club's typical age of 24 to 35 but she felt that she fit right in.
Although the week concentrated on us novices, one day some of the "oldtimers" entered the resort's races -- and captured four of the nine top prizes, an accomplishment that would have been unheard of just a few years ago.
Edith Bloodworth, the retiree, took up skiing four years ago and says she finds it "exhilarating."
Mel Black, a manager with IBM, started skiing on his own 10 years ago after being introduced to the sport by a brother who learned as part of the Army's ski forces in Germany. Mel's wife, two children and three broghers all ski, but no one else in his family shares quite his passion for the sport.
Joanna Brown, a service representative for the telephone company, started four years ago and introduced her daughter Toni to the sport three years ago. Toni, at 11, was the youngest person on our trip. She's selfassured, delightful youngster whose enjoyment of skiing is so obvious that it made many of us older beginners wonder what our skills would be if we'd begun at her age.
Toni was the only youngster on this trip, but Black Ski has had other young members and has a family membership program. The club will have a March 1 youth trip to Bryce Mountain, the first of what's expected to be an annual event sponsored by a planned Black Ski Foundation in cooperation with the D.C. public schools' Outreach Rpogram. The goal is to get businesses and individuals interested in sponsoring a Black Ski effort to recruit and train a possible Olympic contender.